Ohio’s Lost Seat

Ohio’s Congressional Districts

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 8, 2021 — In some of our previous redistricting articles, we’ve alluded to Ohio’s interesting situation. With a 16-member congressional delegation reducing to 15, it seemed unlikely that Republican map drawers would stretch the new map to 12R-3D from its current 12R-4D split. Outside pressures and other factors, however, suggest the first Buckeye State map could have such a partisan division.

Recently, news coming from Illinois suggests that Democratic leaders are looking at ways to reduce the Republican federal contingent in the Land of Lincoln from five House members to just three. If so, states like Ohio, where Republicans are in complete control of the redistricting process, face national pressure to maximize the partisan gain.

Another factor pointing to the Democrats losing the Ohio seat is that only one member to-date, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Warren/Youngstown), is not running for re-election. The eastern Ohio congressman is an announced US Senate candidate, meaning that his 13th District, which stretches from Akron to the Pennsylvania border, is largely unprotected.

As in Pennsylvania, where Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburgh) is the lone House member not seeking re-election in his state because he, too, is running for the Senate, it is reasonable that the collapsed seat would be the one with no incumbent. Therefore, in both cases, Republican map drawers would have a defensible opportunity to collapse a Democratic seat. Furthermore, a Democratic power grab in Illinois, should that happen, makes Republican retribution in Ohio and Pennsylvania more likely.

Another transitional Ohio factor is the two new members coming into the House right after the Nov. 2 special election. Since the partisan primaries have already nominated candidates in a pair of vacated congressional districts that have consistently performed for each party, it became clear on primary night that Democrat Rep. Shontel Brown and Republican Rep. Mike Carey would be joining the delegation.

Brown’s 11th District that stretches from Cleveland to Akron is likely to be a key redistricting focal point. The 11th must gain 94,091 people to reach the new 15-District Ohio population quota of 786,630 individuals, which is the second most of any Buckeye State CD. Since this is also a majority minority seat, adding the necessary people from the Akron area would be a reasonable move, and such a population segment would have to come from Rep. Ryan’s 13th District.

Additionally, with the Republican districts of Reps. David Joyce (R-Russell Township) to the north, Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) to the south, and both Bob Gibbs’ (R-Lakeville) and Anthony Gonzalez’s (R-Rocky River) districts to the west and southwest each being under-populated, dividing remaining 13th CD population among those seats would make the new redistricting map flow relatively seamlessly despite the state again losing a congressional seat.

Rep. Joyce’s 14th District to the north that borders Lake Erie and Pennsylvania to its north and east, needs an additional 56,574 people. Rep. Johnson’s eastern Ohio 6th CD that also borders Pennsylvania in addition to West Virginia is the district requiring the Buckeye State’s largest population influx: 99,512 residents. Rep. Gibbs’ 7th District that moves westerly into central Ohio needs 49,290 people, and Rep. Gonzalez’s 16th that wraps around Cleveland requires an additional 47,520 persons.

Though the 13th is a relatively strong Democratic seat (Biden 2020: 51-48 percent; Ryan 2020: 52-45 percent), splitting its Democratic base in the Youngstown-Warren area among several Republican seats will help fill population needs without subjecting the nearby GOP incumbents to intensely competitive general elections.

An alternative suggested move might be to collapse the odd-shaped 9th District of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) that stretches from the western part of Cleveland and hugs Lake Erie all the way to her home base of Toledo.

Taking the Cleveland portion of this CD would be another way to feed the 11th District, but this plan would isolate Toledo, another Democratic stronghold (9th District Biden 2020: 59-40 percent; Kaptur 2020: 63-37 percent) and possibly make political life more difficult for GOP Reps. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) and/or Jim Jordan (R-Urbana). While the Kaptur seat must gain 82,579 people, Rep. Latta must import 55,478 and Rep. Jordan is forced to add 70,453 individuals in order to meet their individual district population quotas.

The other Ohio area of interest is in and around the capital city of Columbus. Two of the state’s current 16 seats are over-populated, and both are from this central Ohio region. Rep. Joyce Beatty’s (D-Columbus) 3rd District must shed 23,119 residents, while adjacent Rep. Troy Balderson’s (R-Zanesville) 12th CD is 22,314 people over quota. Equalizing these districts will be relatively easy.

Directly to the south of downtown Columbus, the 15th CD of likely incoming special election winner Carey needs an additional 20,293 residents. The extra population from the Beatty and Balderson districts can be spread to help fill the Carey seat, and add a relatively small number of people to the Johnson, Gibbs, and Jordan adjacent districts.

Ohio will be one of the more important redistricting states to watch in the coming weeks and months. It will not only be significant from an internal state perspective, which is obvious, but also the national redistricting picture due to the state’s unique political and geographic mode.

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